Review: Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas

Developer: Cornfox & Bros.
FDG Entertainment

There’s no question that The Legend of Zelda franchise has inspired an entire generation of game developers. A few examples that immediately come to mind are From Software’s 3D Dot Game Heroes, and Aksys Games’ Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus. The argument could also be made that the Souls franchise is inspired by the legendary series from Nintendo. This year, Zelda is celebrating its 30th anniversary, but the latest installment, subtitled Breath of the Wild, won’t be seeing a release until later next year. As a devoted fan, this left a huge void in my heart, and many tears were shed. After going through the five stages of denial, I began searching for a solution to this problem. That’s when I came across Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas, and boy, I got something familiar. Oceanhorn is more than just a Zelda-like game, it’s a straight rip-off. And that’s not exactly a bad thing, because the game proudly stands by that fact to make something interesting.

Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas was originally released in 2013 as a mobile game, but was recently ported to PC and consoles this year. The plot is simple and to the point, though that may be a negative against the overall experience. A young boy embarks on a journey to find his father, while finding the necessary equipment to defeat Oceanhorn, a “living fortress” that terrorizes the seas. The characters are nothing remarkable, and neither is the story. In fact, the story cutscenes were a pain to watch, due to incredibly awkward animations and character models. Despite this, the environment textures and enemies all look lovely, especially when viewed on a nice television. For most of my experience, Oceanhorn was easy on my eyes, and I liked the overall style of the game.

For its gameplay, Oceanhorn takes inspiration from two Zelda games, in particular: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In Oceanhorn, you travel between multiple islands, using your trusty boat. The moments you spend traveling the seas is where the inspiration from Wind Waker can be clearly seen. While sailing between islands, you must protect your ship from enemies, mines, and barrels, using your cannon to shoot them down. Unlike Wind Waker, there is no sense of freedom sailing the uncharted seas of Oceanhorn. Traveling between the different islands is an automated process, where you select your destination and the boat enters an “auto pilot” mode, though I guess you could call it an “auto sailor” mode. Combat on the ocean is also limited to just your cannon, so don’t plan on using your bow to take down enemies. The time you spend on the ocean is minimal, so these issues are not a huge detraction from the overall experience, but I found myself bored while traveling between locations.

Sailing looks nice, but it lacks any sense of wonder.
Sailing looks nice, but it lacks any sense of wonder.

The true life of Oceanhorn is found when you arrive on any given island. The main portion of gameplay takes inspiration from classic 2D Zelda titles, but as I mentioned before, A Link to the Past seems to be the title they took the most from. From a top-down view, you control the main character to perform an assortment of tasks. Using your sword, bombs, arrows, and an array of spells, your main goal is to explore every inch of each island. What you’ll find are treasure chests, bloodstones (which unlock a secret prize if you collect them all), and hidden dungeons. There are also small villages on some islands, where you can shop and chat with the locals to figure out your next destination, or learn of new islands to explore. Each area also has three challenges to complete, which upon completion gives you a generous amount of experience points. The experience and level system is where Oceanhorn separates itself from the Zelda series. Each level gained gives you some sort of advantage, whether it be stronger defense, or the ability to carry more bombs and arrows. It’s a rewarding way to keep you exploring and defeating as many enemies as you can.

From a top-down view, you can explore the islands.
From a top-down view, you can explore the islands.

There are three main dungeons to explore, but they never felt elaborate or special. They’re different enough to stand out from standard caves or buildings, but the dungeons still lack objectives to make them more challenging, compared to the areas surrounding them. The bosses were also not very challenging, or even remarkable. While writing this review, I had to look back to remember what the bosses were like, despite recently playing the game. Due to the small number of dungeons, Oceanhorn is a tad bit shorter than most Zelda games, taking about ten hours to finish. If you want to complete all of the island challenges, collect all of the treasure chests, bloodstones, and spells, it will probably take you almost double that time. The worst of these challenges is collecting all of the fish in the game, which is the only mini-game found in Oceanhorn. One fish in particular, the Botfish, was a pain to catch, as it shocks you as you attempt to reel it in. It’s incredibly frustrating to even attempt to catch this fish, and honestly, it’s not worth the effort. Most of the other fish are simple enough to catch, but man, that Botfish drove me insane.

I can’t wrap up a review about Oceanhorn without mentioning the music. For a small studio, the talent Cornfox & Bros. hired for the soundtrack is incredible. While the majority of the most is composed by in-house composer Kalle Ylitalo, Oceanhorn also features tracks from Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito, famed composers of Final Fantasy and the Mana series, respectively. How they got two of the most famous video game composers to work on an indie game is beyond me, but it’s simply amazing. Take a listen to one of the tracks from the game:

As a Zelda-like game, Oceanhorn is one of the best of its kind, but it is still incredibly flawed and has a lot of room for improvement. The majority of the gameplay is fun and engaging, though the dungeons and sense of freedom could use a lot of polish and a bit more inspiration. The story and characters also need a lot of work. Luckily, developer Cornfox & Bros. is working on a sequel, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm, which is taking inspiration from 3D Zelda titles, such as Skyward Sword. Based off the first screenshots of the title, it looks like the Finnish developer is really taking what made the original great and improving on it tenfold. Seriously, look at the main character and the environment. It’s awesome!

Oceanhorn 2 is looking to be shaping up nicely/Cornfox & Bros.
A look at Oceanhorn 2. It looks to be shaping up nicely. /Cornfox & Bros.

Verdict: Wait for a Sale. Oceanhorn is definitely worth playing, especially for fans of classic Zelda titles, but its flaws and unremarkable story doesn’t make it a priority to play. Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas was played for 18 hours on PlayStation 4 for this review. Oceanhorn is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and mobile devices.

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